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Yes, I touched an iPhone 3G: At Apple's big developer event kickoff on Monday, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 3G. Later that day, in a briefing, I was able to handle and use the phone briefly. It's lovely. But its inclusion of 3G service coupled with Wi-Fi, as well as a real GPS chip coupled with assistive cell-tower triangulation and Wi-Fi network location approximation means that you have a device that might fairly replace a computer for many purposes. I've had an iPhone with 2G (EDGE) service since its release, and I recently took a two-day trip with my older son leaving my computer behind. (I was able to use a relative's machine, but only did so to be able to type email more efficiently.) If Apple would simply allow the use of the Bluetooth HID profile (human interface devices) for keyboard and mouse support, a compact foldable keyboard would be the only accessory I would need.
Note that the iPhone 2G and 3G aren't more powerful than other, similar devices. Symbian platform devices from Nokia and others are in notably short supply in the US, but come in great quantities and varieties elsewhere, and have some pretty impressive computational power; Nokia owns nearly 50 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. Likewise, you can run desktop-to-mobile programs under Windows Mobile that let you have real computer applications repackaged for better use in the smaller form.
But that's not what the iPhone is about. It's a non-compromise device, even when a little compromise might help. The lack of a touch-typist keyboard hinders data entry, but it doesn't restrict any other purpose of the device. The inclusion of those keyboards is a huge compromise for all its competitors, even though it allows those competitors to act more like little computers.
And that's where it's odd for me. The iPhone is much more like a full-blown computer than any smartphone I've used. It might be the superior browser, and the fact that a single company and design vision has ensured the maximum CPU is available for each current task, and that the interface and actions are nearly always consistent across every piece of software. Contrast that with many smartphones that don't just have ugly interfaces, crippled Web browsers, and varying input methods, but also require you to learn a different approach to using nearly every different piece of software on the phone.
Apple isn't about to kill its competitors, but they are providing an odd amount of support for killing a laptop.
On a slightly tangential front, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claim that their phone's 3G speed was nearly that of Wi-Fi requires some explanation. Jobs needed a footnote: "compared to typical Wi-Fi hotspots that have about 1.5 Mbps of downstream backhaul." The iPhone is clearly processor limited for how fast it can render Web pages and handle network processing. If you stick an iPhone on a 10 Mbps-backed network via Wi-Fi, the browsing experience isn't very different than on a 1.5 Mbps-backed Wi-Fi hotspot, in my experience with the current phone.
So clearly, there's more optimization to be done and more hardware upgrades to come in order to have a mobile device that can live up to whatever network it generally works on. For the iPhone 3G, Wi-Fi is an alternative, but it's clearly not intended as a superior alternative.
Apple and AT&T announced the cost of a voice and "data" plan today for the iPhone, with nary a mention of Wi-Fi: Remember Wi-Fi? Remember how every demonstration of the iPhone's browsing, mapping, and email features are conducted via Wi-Fi, not the slower EDGE data service also built into an iPhone? Remember the promise of seamless EDGE-to-Wi-Fi and back roaming with no disruption in the delivery of data during that transition? Remember how goddamn slow EDGE is--about three times faster than the best analog dial-up, weighing in north of 150 Kpbs in ideal cases?
Apple and AT&T are hoping you don't quite remember that well. After you drop $500 or $600 on the iPhone, and pay $50 on up for an unlimited "data" plan--unlimited EDGE data--you're stuck high and dry without Wi-Fi hotspot access. AT&T WiFi is the company's large, managed and aggregated network with what I believe is 10,000 locations at last count: 8,000 McDonald's picked up from Wayport and 2,000 other locations (managed by Wayport), such as The UPS Store. They offer this for $2 per month to their landline DSL customers.
And no word whatsoever about how iPhone users will access Wi-Fi when not on a home or friend's network. The little High Technology page that shows wireless features of the iPhone says, "iPhone automatically finds and connects to trusted Wi-Fi networks so you can surf the Web at blazing speeds." Trusted. Huh.
Because seamless connections to hotspots require custom software--software that a third party can't install on an iPhone yet--iPhone owners who want to use hotspots will have to connect, use the browser, and login, too. You'd think they would have thought of this, given the availability of Wi-Fi on and off AT&T's own network.
Mac OS X has built-in corporate Wi-Fi networking support for 802.1X/WPA Enterprise, which allows secure access to networks protected with that standard. I don't know of any corporation that wouldn't choose to use 802.1X, as it assigns unique encryption keys to each log-in session. There's no word on support for that, either.
Devicescape launches new service, software, to reduce friction: The company opened its public beta to enable portable Wi-Fi-equipped devices to attach themselves to hotspots without the tedium--when it's even possible--of logging in. Devicescape, until now, has been known as an embedded Wi-Fi driver developer, making network software that runs on devices that have very little space and very little battery power to carry out that task. They're leveraging their knowledge and experience in launching this new service.
The service couples a small software program that gets installed on a portable device, like an IP phone with Wi-Fi, and an account you set up on Devicescape's servers to enter your various Wi-Fi logins. In the beta, only a few devices are supported, but the company said in a briefing that more are on the way. They also support just four hotspot networks in this beta: AT&T FreedomLink, Fon, Google's Mountain View Wi-Fi network, and T-Mobile HotSpot (USA). More are on the way, as well as the ability to enter WEP/WPA network keys for your own networks.
Devicescape's approach bypasses having to have an embedded browser in devices, some of which will have no screen or the level of input controls that, say, a camera has today. The browser has been seen as necessary to allow data entry and interaction--clicking the I Agree button on free networks that require you to commit to acceptable uses of a network.
It also means that you won't buy a device like the Nikon S7c and be limited to using only the hotspot networks with which Nikon has struck deals to build firmware controls into their camera to manage a connection as long as the device maker has either a software platform that supports other programs being installed, like a PDA, or Devicescape strikes a deal to have their system preinstalled. (T-Mobile has done a great job of being the network of choice for many Wi-Fi-based device launches, like the Kodak EasyShare-One and the Nikon S7c. And Nintendo signed up with Wayport in the US and other networks internationally to pre-program access into its DS game console.)
The company's CEO Dave Fraser said in an interview that Devicescape expects billions of portable devices that have Wi-Fi radios to be in people's hands over the next few years. "Most of them are going to be the low-cost devices that just can't afford to have a browser anyway," said Fraser. "Our goal is to make the sign-on to these proliferating Wi-Fi networks completley seamless. So you don't need a browser--you don't need a clumsy user experience." Fraser suggested that this lack of frictionless authentication limits hotspot utility. "If you had to do that on your cell phone every time you had to make a call," he said, cell phones would never have gained an audience.
When you take one of the supported devices, like the Linksys WIP300 Wireless-G IP Phone, the lightweight on-board Devicescape application connects to the Devicescape server. It does this by bypassing normal hotspot port-based access controls and gateway authentication pages using DNS (domain name system). DNS allows the encapsulation of certain information in special record types beyond IP address records and mail exchange details. Devicescape encrypts your authentication information, so it doesn't pass in the clear; the phone's software decrypts the login details and carries out the connection process automatically. (Yes, they have a patent in progress on this.)
This DNS approach could be blocked by hotspot operators, but blocking DNS in general would disrupt network functions, and blocking Devicescape in particular could prove difficult. In any case, Devicescape sees hotspot networks as partners with which they want to develop roaming and billing relationships.
The portable device doesn't need to store much in the way of how to log in and your authentication details aren't stored, either. Cryptographic protections enable each device to be uniquely identified, too, so anything stored on the portable phone, camera, etc., can't simply be copied to another device to enable it. This ensures that devices are uniquely registered and that they are not cloned through over-the-air interception, hacking, or physical access to the device.
It also means that it could provide the tools to allow different fees for different kinds of devices, and a way to avoid a one-account, one-login problem. In testing, Devicescape execs said they hit login limits with accounts on AT&T FreedomLink and T-Mobile HotSpot, which assumes that a single account is being used on, say, a laptop or a PDA by one person. But one person with many devices needs a unique way to have those devices simultaneously connect. If I walk into an airport with a camera, phone, and laptop, and want to use all three at the same time, no current system supports this. And if your device is stolen and pops up on a network--you could alert the cops! (Mash up of Google Maps, Skyhook Wireless, and Devicescape.)
Devicescape expects to become a sort of aggregator of access, leveraging the fact that you have an account set up with details that could include credit card information in order to use your various devices. (Confusingly, Devicescape is calling a set of devices you use your...devicescape. Ok.) Imagine walking into a hotspot you've never used before, and seeing a dialog box appear on your limited-input device that says, "Would you like to use this hotspot for $2 for 24 hours access?" Click OK, and the billing and authentication happens behind the scenes.
The company said that they aren't looking to displace firms like Boingo Wireless and iPass, with which they could be partners, too, by leveraging those authentication and billing systems with their lightweight software approach.
For more relationship-based use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices, Devicescape will offer in a future release a buddy list feature so that people who trust each other can allow devices to share network encryption keys. This is a very interesting option, because it not only bypasses entering WPA Personal passphrases, for instance--I have spent a lot of time lately cursing interfaces for this on Wi-Fi-equipped phones--but it also means you don't have to provide a "buddy" with the actual key. If you change the key at any time, you just update your Devicescape account's profile, and your buddies don't have make any changes to connect the next time they are at your location.
For now, this public beta offers a limited set of devices and networks to test to show what the potential is. Over time, the company will add networks, equipment, and additional services like the buddy list feature to flesh out the bones of their offering. The marching orders for this service is to bring the coming universe of Wi-Fi-enabled portables into the hotspot world. "Devices today are second class citizens," said Fraser, and he's trying to advance their status to full members of society.
Remarkably, Spectec could squeeze a Wi-Fi chipset into a phone-size card: The microSDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) format is popular in smartphones and not-so-smart-phones because the slot size is just that much tinier. With a blowtorch and a headlamp, you can even put microSDIO into Blackberry's Pearl model. But sticking Wi-Fi in that form factor? A great technical achievement. More remarkable? It's 802.11g--G, baby!--not the slower 802.11b that's typically found in small and embedded devices. Support is noted for Windows CE 4 and 5, which encompasses Windows Mobile 5. It's only available in Europe right now (€90), according to TG Daily. [Link via PocketPC Thoughts]
The $99 card works with handhelds: SDIO is increasingly the form factor of choice for handheld devices, whether cellphones (which sometimes opt for mini-SDIO), cameras, or PDAs. Having a Wi-Fi option for those devices that don't offer Wi-Fi built in or through their own card is extremely worthwhile, and the retail price of $99 for the Go Wi-Fi!--love that !--makes this a decent choice, even.
The Socket card uses 802.11g, the faster Wi-Fi standard in common use, although the overall throughput is highly dependent on a device's bus. Still, even if a device can only push 1 Mbps over a 54 Mbps connection, 802.11g ultimately uses less power to move the same bits and occupies a network for less of the time, improving overall throughput.
Socket claims fairly wide support, with drivers for Dell HP, and Palm devices, and Windows Mobile 2003/2003SE and 5.0. They also say that the card supports Windows CE 42/5.0 drivers for embedded devices, which could encompass a fairly large category of equipment. There's a full suite of security support--thank you, Socket--including WPA Enterprise, but it appears its lacking WPA2. This shouldn't be an issue for many customers, although some people may be required to use the stronger AES key available only in WPA2 if they work for the government, or in healthcare or the legal industry.
The system includes a Wi-Fi management program that's sold separately for $25.
eWeek reports that RIM's head said dual Wi-Fi/cell Blackberrys are on the way: The head of Research in Motion said that dual-mode devices would be available by year's end. A CDMA version is also on the way to support the cell network standard used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel in the US and several carriers in South Korea.
The addition of Wi-Fi will be a boon to hotspot operators. There are approximately 5m Blackberry subscribers as of late in 2005. While those users won't convert en masse, if RIM adds features that work better with more bandwidth, Wi-Fi service plans would almost certainly be cheaper than corresponding EVDO/HSDPA plans. Hotspot aggregators, especially, might be able to offer highly discounted access for devices much less likely to use bandwidth, and increase overall Wi-Fi network utilization.
The latest Palm Treo continues its phone orientation by adding the cell data EVDO standard, but omitting Wi-Fi: The 700p is more phone like, apparently, with send end call buttons. It also includes Bluetooth 1.2, which is a shame as that standard tops out at about 700 Kbps of real throughput. EVDO networks currently peak at over 1 Mbps, although 200 to 400 Kbps is a more consistently found speed. EVDO networks deploying next year using the Rev. A standard will peak at over 2 Mbps, however. (More product information at Palm's site.)
While the Palm 700p has an SDIO slot, it doesn't yet support Wi-Fi via SD, which means that an external "sled" would be needed to use Wi-FI. This coupled with the slow Bluetooth speed means that it will be hard to move files on and off without resorting to sneakernet + SD cards or a USB cable.
There's no announcement yet about a UMTS/HSDPA Treo 700p, but this makes some sense when you consider there are no HSDPA phones available yet; UMTS is roughly 50 percent slower than HSDPA. Why release a device that can use the fastest network available? It would be a little odd on the marketing side. UMTS and HSDPA work worldwide, where EVDO is more of a South Korea/United States standard, which makes it clear that Palm needs to release a UMTS/HSDPA Treo eventually, but they might wait until they can have one that includes all the worldwide radio bands for those standards.
Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless will sell the handheld/phone, but pricing and availability aren't yet announced.
Symbol has come out with a new PDA aimed at clumsy business professionals: Symbol is well known for its rugged handheld devices designed for use in environments that might normally destroy typical PDAs. Now it is releasing a new family of PDAs designed for business users and while the first product isn't quite as durable as the heavy-duty products, it can survive a three foot drop onto a carpeted floor. The first product has plenty of other bells and whistles, such as built in 802.11b Wi-Fi, support for voice over Wi-Fi, and a camera function.
RIM is demonstrating a new BlackBerry that includes support for 802.11b networks: The BlackBerry 7270 will be the first BlackBerry to support 802.11. It will also include a SIP client for voice over Wi-Fi support. The 7270 will be commercially available early next year.
T-Mobile and HP said today that they'd start selling a new handheld that includes GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth later this summer: There are some combined cellular/Wi-Fi PDAs being sold in Japan and probably one or two here too, but this will be one of the first major launches by an operator.
One of the more interesting aspects of this announcement is the type of pricing deal T-Mobile will introduce when the device becomes available. It will offer a plan that includes a bucket of voice minutes plus unlimited use of GPRS and Wi-Fi. The whole plan will cost under $100. Some of the cellular operators have been charging around $80 a month for unlimited cell data using data cards, though those prices have been dropping recently. Data plans on cell phones have been less expensive, but presumably users aren't downloading PowerPoint presentations on their cell phones, unless they are connecting to their laptops, which the operators frown upon. So while the $100 figure from T-Mobile seems like a good deal by comparison and because it includes voice, Wi-Fi, and cell data, it's still pretty steep when you compare it to what people pay for high-speed access in their homes. Users will likely expect to pay a premium for the benefit of using mobile data, but this might be too much of a premium.
While the analysts I spoke to seemed pretty excited about the idea of a device that includes cell data and Wi-Fi, I suspect that the audience for this device will be relatively small. The PDA market in general has been shrinking, and the market for this device will be a subset of the overall PDA market. Still, the analysts I talked to were bullish on future versions of such devices that allow more seamless roaming and voice over Wi-Fi to reach a far larger market.
WiFile is a Palm application that allows Samba (SMB) file sharing access over a Wi-Fi-enabled Palm OS 4 or 5 handheld: This solves a long-standing problem with the handheld devices integration with existing network storage infrastructure.
SyChip showed off a new WLAN card at CES: The company said it is testing the product with PDA and smartphone makers. The card lets users opt for slower throughput speeds to save battery life, a key consideration for handheld devices that use WLANs.
This reviewer, while impressed by some features of the Pocket PC, doesn’t think it's worth buying just yet: If you've been waiting for a Wi-Fi capable PDA with a slightly larger screen, this is it. The screen on the Toshiba e800 measures four inches diagonally.
It offers much better resolution than most PDAs but the catch is that when in the high resolution mode, the PDA is virtually useless. This reviewer couldn't point to a single application that supports the resolution. So even the standard Pocket PC apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint don't work when the device is on the high resolution setting. That means users can read documents in those programs but can't interact with them.
From the horse's mouth, an explanation for the delay: Palm users have been anxiously awaiting software drivers that will support SanDisk's SD Wi-Fi card. SanDisk released a pretty detailed explanation for the repeated delays.
It looks like some people think there are deeper problems at Palm causing delays in the Wi-Fi enablement of Palm devices. You may want to read some of this with a grain of salt seeing as the site is dedicated to Microsoft platforms, but MSMobiles, has done some digging around problems with the Palm platform.